Beat the Heat:
Warm Weather Safety Tips for Gun Dogs
By Steve Deger
Whether you're field training, running your dog in a hunt test, or enjoying an opening day dove hunt, heat poses a serious threat to your AWS. But by following these common sense tips, both and your dog can safely enjoy warm weather field activities:
- Condition your dog. Dogs that are in good physical shape
will have an easier time dealing with warm weather. But you can't wait until
July or August to start---conditioning is a year-round activity. Cross-country
skiing, snowshoeing, field training, jogging, etc. are all ways to keep your
dog in peak condition year round.
- Learn to read your dog. This basic tenet applies to warm
weather safety as much as it does to any other aspect of dog training. Working
your dog year round hones your skills of observation, giving you a clearer
picture of your dog's stamina under various conditions. The signs of
overheating that too often escape the eye of the inattentive trainer--- lolling
tongue, sunken eyes, fatigue, etc.---are less likely to be overlooked when you
learn to observe the subtle aspects of your dog's behavior during off-season
- Take it easy. During cool weather, your dog may hunt for
hours without showing signs of overheating. But it may take only a few minutes
to overwork a dog when heat and humidity are a part of the working environment.
Shorten your training sessions considerably. Limit field activity to the early
morning hours, when temps are cool and the sun is low in the sky. If you are
doing both upland and water work, do the upland work in the morning, and move
to the water when the day progresses. Give your dog plenty of rest in between
periods of working the field. And when excessive heat and/or high humidity are
part of the weather forecast, skip field work altogether, and wait for a better
- Seek shade. Where possible, work your dog within the shade
of a tree line or shelterbelt. Take your breaks in the shade---but don't ever
put the dog in the vehicle with the windows rolled up or with the air condition
- Hydration is key. Make sure your dog is well-hydrated
before an anticipated day in the field. In the days before a scheduled hunt,
training day, or hunt test, I flavor my dog's water with kibble, which leads
her to drink the entire bowl. I do this at about five 5 p.m., allowing me three
or four opportunities to take her outside to empty her bladder before putting
her up for the night at around 10 p.m. That way the time the anticipated day
rolls around, I know I won't be starting out with a dog that is already a
little dehydrated before she hits the field.
In the field, make sure you have plenty of water on hand for drinking. Some people put electrolytes in their dogs' drinking water, but since dogs don't lose electrolytes through their skin the way humans do, effectiveness of this is questionable.
Keep your dog wet, particularly his or her stomach/chest area (ever notice how dogs lay in a puddle when hot? They rarely roll around to soak their entire coat.) Don’t put a wet dog in a crate---the air circulation inside the crate is limited, and a wet dog can turn a crate into a miniature sauna. Instead, put the dog on a tie-out stake until he or she dries off.
- Clip your dog, but not too close. Removing excess hair
will prevent warm, dead air from being trapped against the dog's skin. But if
you shave the dog too close, it may lead to sunburn.
- Use some of the "tricks of the trade". Dog enthusiasts
have come with all sorts of gadgets and techniques for keeping dogs cool.
Battery-operated fans are available that clip to the grates of a crate door.
Use a wire crate, rather than a plastic airline crate, as the open design
allows air to circulate better. Some handlers turn the metal pan of these
crates upside down, and put ice cubes underneath to keep the pan cool.
Great Lakes AWSC member Jeff Kraynik once shared a helpful tip on the BROWNDOGS discussion list---buy a pair of those orange "tummy saver" dog vests they sell in outdoor catalogs. Soak them in water and freeze them overnight. Put one on the dog before warm weather field work, and bring the other along in a cooler to switch to after the first one thaws.
- Don’t second-guess yourself. Sometimes, we look forward to
days afield so much, we let our own enthusiasm cloud our judgment of our dog's
safety. Maybe it’s a hunt test you've been waiting for all summer. Or maybe
you've already had your gun club owners plant training birds in the field, and
you don't want to waste the money by quitting before they are flushed and
retrieved. Whatever the case, pause to look objectively at the situation to
determine if these are conditions you would normally otherwise hunt your dog
in. If not, scratch the test, pick your dog up, or leave the un-hunted gun club
field for some other lucky flushing spaniel owner. Don’t jeopardize your dog's
health for any reason, least of all reasons of vanity or frugality!
What to do when you run into a problem
- Keep a first aid kit with a thermometer---heat stroke occurs when a dog's
temperature reaches 104 degrees or more. If you reach this point, you'll have
to get the dog's temperature back down quickly.
- Rubbing alcohol can be used on the dog's underside for its evaporative,
cooling effect. Running water (such as from a garden hose or a creek) is
better than placing the dog in a tub of water---in a tub, the water around a
dogs skin quickly warms and creates an insulating, rather than cooling,
- Don't force the dog to drink---that may worsen the problem, and the dog
will eventually drink again once it cools.
- Check for lodged objects in the dog's throat or mouth, to make sure it can
breath and pant properly.
- Finally, and most importantly, get the dog to the vet ASAP for prompt
Although heat is a serious threat, it doesn't have to keep you from enjoying your field dog year-round. With a little preparedness and a healthy dose of common sense, you can enjoy even more days afield with your curly brown companion.